Last Updated: September 16, 2021
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You may be concerned about the large number of personal information breaches that seem to be happening ever more frequently. You might wonder, “Is my personal information safe?” Unfortunately, lots of our personal information is available online.
In this article, we’ll cover how to remove your personal information from the internet & public data sources. Doing so will help keep you safe from a number of online threats as well as maintain your valuable privacy.
In this article, we’ll cover how your personal information gets on the internet, the types of personal information you will find online, how others get hold of your personal information, consequences of having your personal information exposed, and how to remove your personal information from the internet.
How Does Personal Information Get On the Internet?
You might be surprised to realize just how many ways there are for your information to get online. Almost everything we do is connected to the internet in some way. If you’ve ever wondered “why is my personal information online?”, one of these is likely the cause:
Social Media Accounts
In 2020, over 3.6 billion people used social media. If you’re using the internet, it’s likely that you have a social media account or two. By nature, these accounts are personal and we share a lot of information related to our identity and daily lives on them freely. Typically, you also need to provide identifying and contact information to register an account.
Chances are, you likely follow a number of blogs that post content you find interesting or entertaining. Blogs may collect information using cookies or you might provide it by signing up for an account, newsletter, or email subscriber list.
Online Store Accounts
Most internet users today shop online. Most online stores require you to create an account to order products and services. You also need to provide your contact, address and identifying information to complete orders as well as payment information to make a purchase.
Any other online subscription, such as online banking, news feeds, hosting accounts, email accounts, etc. all collect certain personal and behavioral information. Websites that give personal information online usually have to follow strict regulations about what information they collect and how they can share it.
A cookie is a small file that contains information about your browsing behavior, such as the sites you have visited, searches you have made, products you have viewed, etc. This data is automatically collected and stored by browsers behind the scenes and used by websites you visit to personalize their content or offerings.
In most countries, including the US, criminal data are in the public domain. If you have any type of criminal record, it’s probably on the public record and can be freely accessed on official governmental or law enforcement websites.
Malware or Hackers
One strategy used by hackers today is to ransom your private information online. Malware planted by cybercriminals infects your computer and collects data and files. They can use this information for extortion, for example by posting it online, especially on extortion sites.
Types of Personal Information
In accordance with the number of ways in which your information can get online, there is also a broad spectrum of information that may end up online related to any person. If you want to know how to delete your digital footprint, this is the information you should look out for:
Information such as your full name and surname, family relations, career-related information, education, age, physical or mental characteristics, interests, and other information unique to you.
Contact and Address Information
This may include your physical home and business address as well as your phone number, email address, mailing address, etc.
Any bank account or debit/credit card details, online banking login information, or details regarding your financial status, such as account balances, investment portfolios, etc.
Username/email and password combinations that you use to log into online accounts or services. It may also include any security questions, if applicable.
Any information regarding your previous or current health status, conditions, vaccinations, allergies, insurance, etc. This is considered highly sensitive and private information, protected by special regulations such as HIPAA.
This includes all official government-issued identification information, such as your ID, passport, SSN, tax, driving license, or other numbers.
Having so many possible types of information leaked online, knowing how to remove your personal information from the internet means using different techniques to find and remove as much of your information as possible.
How Can People Get My Personal Information?
Knowing how to remove private information from the internet is not as straightforward as it may seem. This is because your information might trade hands on multiple occasions and be duplicated on various websites. Here are some of the most common ways your information may spread online:
Because they store so much data online, companies and organizations have become ripe targets for hackers and cybercriminals. Hackers try to breach their databases and then steal or leak as much of the data as possible. Much of this data may be from consumers that should be kept private, such as personal, financial, and credential information.
Social Media and Blogs
On social media accounts, you often freely publish your personal information that can be publicly viewed by anyone (depending on your privacy preferences). Both social media sites and blogs have been victims of massive data breaches and may also participate in the consumer data market.
Web Browsing History
Web browsers collect almost all relevant data related to your activities via cookies and other methods. Once again, this information may be traded to data brokers or shared with third parties to personalize services, content, or offerings.
The consumer data and analytics industry are huge with hundreds of brokers buying and selling consumer data to interested parties. They may buy or license data from other websites that give personal information and various organizations or use large-scale public record scraping.
Background Check Sites
Background check sites may sound shifty but are completely legal online services. They scour multiple public records, such as social media platforms, governmental records, criminal records, etc. Anyone can generate and purchase detailed reports with this information on other individuals without them knowing.
Consequences of Having Your Personal Information Publicly Accessible
People often underestimate the consequences of having their personal information stored online. The results can be far-reaching and dramatic. These are some of the best reasons why you might want to learn how to hide personal information online:
If someone gets enough of your personal information, it will be easy to impersonate you online or over the phone. This can be used to damage your reputation, victimize those closest to you, access your banking accounts, etc. Identity theft statistics show that identity theft is on the rise and a major concern.
Opportunists may use intimate knowledge of you to convince you that they are someone privy to that information, such as a colleague, superior, doctor, banking agent, etc. This way, they can get you to give up even more sensitive information or to open yourself up to being victimized in other ways.
If your payment information gets into the wrong hands, they can simply make purchases using your money. With your online shopping or banking credentials, they can also buy things or transfer your hard-earned money to their own accounts.
With multiple accounts, many people simply reuse the same credentials everywhere. However, this means that if one of your account credentials becomes publicly available, opportunists may use it to access your other accounts too. By collecting your personal information, they might be able to guess and bypass account security questions, for example.
Violation of Privacy
As recent, high-profile celebrity leaks have shown, there are individuals who will leak your most private and intimate information online. Even if it’s not that sensitive, you should still have a say as to who has access to what information according to what you’re comfortable with sharing.
You may want to keep your personal and professional life private. People have done things before that might compromise how they are viewed professionally. If you remove public records from the internet, it may prevent personal information from affecting your career.
How to Remove Your Personal Information From the Internet & Public Data Sources?
There are a lot of ways to remove your personal information online, depending on where it is stored. Removing information from Google, various accounts, and other websites should be done in concert to maximize the results:
The first step is to know what information of yours is the easiest to find online. You can do this by performing a quick Google search of your name and seeing what comes up and on which websites.
Decide What to Remove
This is something every individual will need to decide on their own based on their own privacy concerns and risks. You need to look at the information publicly available and decide:
- What are you comfortable with sharing?
- What do you need to share? Especially in terms of payment/quick checkout for online shopping or other online services.
- Who can see this information? You can change this by changing the privacy settings on social media sites for example.
- Do you trust the sites that have your information?
- Based on these answers, delete or restrict the information from these accounts or remove your account/profile entirely.
Ask Data Collection Sites (e.g. Data Brokers) to Remove Your Information
According to EU and US laws on data privacy, most data brokers must give consumers the option to opt out of their information being shared online. You can find the largest, most reputable data brokers online by doing a simple Google search. You’ll want to know how to remove yourself from Whitepages and similar websites.
Companies That Remove Personal Information from the Internet
Similarly, you can ask companies that specialize in removing personal information online to do it for you or even engage with some of the recommended identity theft protection services. They usually maintain lists of data brokers, but can also offer other specialized services to remove specific information. For example:
Remove All Unnecessary Apps From Your Phone or Tablet
Mobile apps collect a lot of data from both in-app and general use. Some apps allow you to change the data collection and sharing settings but it might be safer to just remove any unnecessary or unused apps.
Use a Do-Not-Track Feature
Most browsers, such as Google Chrome, have a “do-not-track” feature that you can enable. Enabling it will show websites that you do not want your data tracked, but they might still choose to do so.
Clean Your Computer Data
You can physically clear cookies and other data that browsers collect from your computer. At the same time, you may also want to delete any sensitive local data that is not secure or that might get synced to online accounts.
Remove Outdated Search Results
If you have wondered how to remove yourself from search engines, you can request Google to remove it from their search results if it is still showing up.
Set Up an Email Account for Junk
Creating and using an email account specifically for non-essential websites and accounts is a great way to avoid sharing your address unnecessarily. Junk or suspicious email will also go to this account instead of your main one.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Using a VPN can stop your information from being intercepted when communicating with websites or servers in any way. It also stops information from being linked to your real physical location.
Use Incognito Mode or a “Safe Browser”
Google’s incognito mode allows you to browse a website without your activity being stored or your login credentials being revealed. There are also other browsers that prioritize user privacy.
So, now you know how to remove your personal information from the internet & public data sources. As you can see, managing your personal information online can be complicated because of the huge range of online services and platforms we use. However, it’s also more important than ever to protect your identity.
If you regularly check what personal information of yours is available online, remove it, and then avoid sharing your information unnecessarily, you’ll make the first step towards staying safe.
There are many ways that your information can get online. Every time you create an account, send an email, fill out a form, make a payment, or provide any other data online, it might get captured, stored, and shared without your knowledge.
There is no one good answer to “how to remove your personal information from the internet & public data sources”. It all depends on what information you want to be removed, where it is located, and what your browsing behavior is. We covered some of the most effective methods above, including removing information from search engines, browsers, and your own computer.